This post has a bit of introduction so that you can understand why this post about being happy belongs on my mostly knitting-related website. If you want to get down to the meat of the post (about the Happiness Project), jump down here.
I have been interested in the topic of happiness since I was a teenager.I remember being curious about a book my dad owned, with a little illustrated dude jumping with excitement and “BEING HAPPY” in all caps on the cover. I’m not sure I ever read through the book, but I was always intrigued by the idea that an adult needed help to be happy. I also remember my dad sharing the importance of making life decisions based on happiness rather than social expectations. These were definitely ideas that have had a huge impact on how I live my life.
I didn’t realize until my mid-twenties that happiness was something I couldwork on, almost like a skill. Until then, happiness had always been something you either had or you didn’t, based on things that happened to you. What changed my thinking? I started going to Buddhist meditation classes. One of the things they taught me was that our emotions and reactions are controllable with practice. So we would meditate on joy and holding the feeling of joy. The more I did it, the more I could just bring up the feeling during a regular day when I needed it. It was really cool!
Working On Being Happy
When my life situation had me feeling anxious on a daily basis, I started reading lots of ‘self-help’ books because meditation wasn’t feeling like quite enough. I’ve learned so many behavior- and mindset-changing tools that I love. So I just keep reading these books, even when I’m feeling great. I think you can always feel better and happier, so it doesn’t hurt to continually work on yourself! Basically, I’ve become geeky about improving myself. 🤓
And my latest read, The Happiness Project, is about the author’s quest to become happier when she was already pretty happy. She had a good life and was generally happy, but she knew she could be happier. She decided to work on it, then wrote a book about her individual process (which she notes will definitely be different for everyone).
Each month, she created resolutions to stick to for different aspects of her life, like organizing and decluttering for January, and working on her marriage in February. She doesn’t claim the book is a “how to” for becoming happier yourself but just a look into how she did it. She found that reading about other people’s happiness projects gave her ideas for her own, therefore, increasing her happiness!
One of my favorite things from the book was the idea of coming up with personal commandments for yourself. You can find hers (and a ton of readers’ in the comments) here. I love the idea of creating this list to remind you of how you want to be and what’s important to you! So I came up with my own, which will hopefully give you some ideas for yourself.
Mandy’s Happiness Commandments
Be Mandy. (I stole this from the book but I am all about authenticity)
Everyone is just trying to be happy, cut them slack.
You can’t control everything, but you can control how you react.
So what are your personal commandments? What are things you tend to forget but when you don’t, lead to a happier or more calm life? I’d love to hear yours in the comments, even if you can only think of one right now.
You’re slogging through life when you realize you haven’t made anything for months. You’re in a creative slump. Haven’t picked up your needles, a pencil, a paintbrush… whatever tools you use for your usual choice of creation. Or maybe you’ve been picking up that pencil, but nothing happens. You knit for like 5 minutes a day but just feel bored or discouraged.
Something is holding you back but you have no idea what. You lost the spark for your craft.
I’ve been feeling that kind of creative slump lately. (Could you tell? Seeing as how I haven’t updated this blog since April.)
A few weeks ago, on a day where I was trying to pep-talk myself into working harder on my next knitting pattern, my sister called me to ask for a new website for her new business as a life coach. We decided to trade services instead of paying each other in money. Three weeks into working with her, I’ve gone from feeling like a creative failure to a rockstar.
So what happened?
In our sessions, we talk about goals, what I need to do to achieve them, why I want to achieve them, what might hold me back from achieving them and what I can do about that. Because creativity is such a big part of my identity and is tied directly to my being able to successfully create more than one knitting pattern in my entire life, that’s where we have been focusing.
I had been dragging my feet while trying to finish up my latest pattern. I used to write a lot but I hadn’t had an idea for a blog post in forever. And drawing and painting – lawl. What are those? I had actually given up that part of my identity in my head.
I realized my problem wasn’t only with being in a creative slump when it came to knitting, it was an issue in all aspects of my creativity. The solution I decided to test out was to just start creating for the sake of creation. I figured I could make a “creativity habit” to get my brain to start thinking creatively every day.
But what was the block? Why wasn’t I just doing all of the things I loved to do, like knitting, painting and writing?
Stories we tell ourselves
Our actions are often based on the stories we tell ourselves. Stories about who we are and the world around us. They can stop us from doing the things we want to do and from becoming who we want to be. By identifying these stories, we can start to notice when they’re holding us back and work to change them.
What are some of the stories that hold me back?
I tell myself that I’m not a productive member of society if I’m just playing around and creating things for the sake of creating.
I tell myself that the only things worth doing create something useful. This is probably the reason I began crocheting and knitting in the first place.
I tell myself I can no longer draw or paint, so there’s no reason to waste the money on materials.
I tell myself that creating for the joy of it should only be done as a reward after doing ‘real work’.
The plan to get out of my creative slump
I would get up an hour early (I’m a morning person), get to my easel and paint whatever came to mind for an hour.
I imagined what it would be like to stand in front of the canvas, how it would feel when I was done and got totally psyched about that feeling. Initially, I imagined I would just paint a bunch of strokes on the canvas with no end goal, mostly because I was still afraid I ‘couldn’t paint’. It was something I hadn’t done for a long time, so there was an excitement to it, but also an old comfort. I imagined I would feel like I was coming back to myself.
Before starting, I worked through a few issues I had with painting – like wasting materials on a crappy painting. “If I enjoy myself, it’s not a waste. I can always paint over it.”
I was also just afraid to create a bad painting in general – what if someone saw it? “So, what if someone did? What would happen? The world wouldn’t end and I still would feel good knowing I at least showed up.”
If only masters of a craft practiced the craft… well, there would be no masters to begin with.
I have been showing up for the past three weeks. I have started 5 paintings (some good, some not so good), miniatures (nerdy and creative), and bought supplies to dye yarn because playing with colors on canvas made me realize I would really love playing with colors on yarn. I started following whatever got me excited, or to steal a line from Tara Swiger, I was ‘exploring my enthusiasm’. Oh, and also, my pattern is ready for tech editing.
Painting every day helped me feel like I was getting back to my old creative self – the teenager who would draw and paint because she wanted to, not worried about whether she was being productive or not. And that feeling gave me a spark of energy I hadn’t had in a while.
So what can you do if you’re feeling not-so-creative?
First, identify your stories.
What are you telling yourself either consciously or subconsciously that is stopping you from practicing your craft or being fully invested in it? Pay attention to your thoughts for a few days and see what comes up.
Once you’ve identified them, come up with some counter-stories for each one.
For example, for my first story, “I’m not a productive member of society if I’m just playing around and creating things for the sake of creating“, I have created a counter-story:
“I value art for art’s sake. I value artists and designers and all they create whether it is practical or just beautiful, so I value my own time to create practical or impractical things.”
I also know that story has something to do with what I think others might think of the way I spend my time. So I add a little “eff everyone else” to the end of that story. My values, my time. Please don’t waste your time on what you think others think. They probably don’t even care.
Then become aware of when you’re telling yourself these stories so you can actively counter them with your new story. Believe your new story. Repeat it often and let it become your story.
Start acting, pick your craft, pick a time, go for it!
While you’re working on identifying your stories and coming up with counter-stories, start imagining new or old ways you’d like to work on your creativity.
Maybe you like to bake, so commit to baking every few days while altering the recipe in some new way. Pick up one of those fancy new coloring books for adults. Watercolor. Try sculpting. If you’re a knitter, maybe challenge yourself to some small, quick knits – hats, chunky scarves, etc…
If nothing comes to mind, what kind of crafts did you do as a kid or teenager because you thought it was fun?
Are there crafts you know nothing about but really want to try? Give yourself permission to buy the materials and get started. Follow your enthusiasm!
Imagine yourself doing this craft, where are you going to do it? How does it feel? What time of day is it?
Is there something that can get in the way of practicing this craft every day and if so, what is it and how can you remove the obstacle. Work out those obstacles and get to it!
But what if I’m still stuck?
Hopefully you just go for it, start creating and feel super awesome about it. But if there’s something still holding you back, start to think about why you want to be creative. Is there an end-goal? Or is it more about being your true self? Really think about it and imagine yourself where you want to be. Get excited about being there and your actions will follow.
I sometimes dream of putting on an outfit that brings out my inner hippy. I love the white lace that always seems to be front and center in so many bohemian outfits. It’s also the only style I know of that has so much crochet!
I went on a hunt for knitting and crochet patterns that feel bohemian and free-spirited to me.
I think I may have gasped when I saw this and then to see that the pattern is free…! I love that this is knitted, as it has a different look than a lot of the boho tops you see (crocheted in white). Super cute, though I couldn’t get away with wearing a crop top.
I can imagine so many different color combinations with this bracelet, or maybe making it a bit smaller using thinner yarn and a smaller crochet hook. Also, sitting at a computer all day, I find hard bracelets to be a bit cumbersome, so a soft bracelet like this seems like it would be rather comfortable.
Felicia’s latest post, Craft as “a little space to collect oneself”, on The Craft Sessions hit me today. I wrote a comment in response, but I realized as I posted it that it probably would have made for a better blog post than a comment.
In a nutshell, her post is about having lost a private, physical space to craft in and how it’s affected her. There are more interruptions to her craft time because she’s out in the open and available. And sometimes she feels guilty about taking craft breaks since everyone can see her taking a break. She’s basically lost all craft time because she lost the privacy.
My circumstances are a bit different than Felicia’s. While I’ve never had a private space for crafting, I do have private time. It’s me that’s holding myself back from taking time out to craft, not someone else. This is what resonated with me from Felicia’s post:
“I may be voicing a universal longing for enough space to breathe and put things in perspective…… More and more we’re challenged and unsettled by it in part because I think we’re more and more addicted to our busyness. ”
— Pico Iyer – Dumbo Feather Issue 46
And Felicia’s feelings of guilt for not filling her time with busy things…
“But thinking about it I’m not even sure the judgement I’m trying to avoid is external. I have the feeling some of it, might be coming from me. My feelings around what I should be doing.”
I have been struggling with this lately. I don’t have a full time job anymore, which clears up so much space. I had hoped to make room for crafting and design as a freelance career, but it seems that I have filled every nook and cranny with my old job (web design), just on a freelance basis. I think I’ve done this because I swear that everyone around me thinks I’m sitting at home just drinking a cup of tea. (They really don’t. If anything, they imagine me doing magic with two wands as I knit up a project, since most people I know don’t know how to knit and think they never could.)
The process of crafting from scratch is slow. Web design is much faster, so I think I’ve filled my time with it as a way to show those around me that I’m being productive. I’ve been saying “Yes” to so many things I don’t even really want to do! I’ve been valuing my worth by how many ‘things’ I’ve accomplished.
As Paco said, I seem to be addicted to how busy I am. Ticking off small, quick items on my to-do list. Forgetting about the bigger goals, like becoming a knitwear designer. (Well, not forgetting… More like anguishing about it while I do other things that aren’t moving me toward my goal.)
I feel like I have to earn my time to craft.
It’s good to consider how well we’re treating ourselves. We’re not robots. To me, life isn’t about how hard we work, it’s about family, friends, compassion, growing, enjoyment…
How do you give yourself permission to do what you really want to do, even when it doesn’t pay? Even when you already have enough money?
Emma Mitchell touched on this during her interview on A Playful Day. She quit a well-paying, high-power job to craft because it felt better. It’s a great interview, give it a listen!
I’m going to get a little Buddhist here, but I think it has to do with remembering that our human lives are precious. Yes, we need money for food and shelter, but if you’ve got that covered, it may help to remember that you’re lucky to be here, alive, as a human.
In Buddhist views, you could have been born a cat, doomed to nap all day! No thumbs to knit with!
The fact that you’re able to craft should be celebrated! Take the time for yourself to do what makes you feel alive. Everyone and everything else can wait 5 minutes. (Or 30!)
I may make something practical, to be worn or used…
Or maybe I’ll just make something for the sake of looking pretty.
There’s also something about doing things the slow way that is extremely satisfying to me. Like the time I collected acorns and simmered them for a day, then roasted them for an hour.
Or picking and shelling pigeon peas for days…
It seems that people don’t know much about how things are made anymore. Because we don’t need to make from scratch, a lot of us don’t.
Knitting seems like voodoo to some that watch me. Planting a garden and keeping it alive (not even thriving) seems like a major feat (when in reality, I probably visit my garden every other week sometimes and it seems to do quite fine without me). Seeing my friends turn flat fabric into a garment blows my mind. When I realized that I could create yarn with my own two hands from fleece, I was amazed. There is always something to learn and most crafts, even if they seem impossible, are within reach with a bit (or a lot) of practice.
Yes, making is a slow process but it is so satisfying to make something from scratch — mindfully — yourself. To know every step from raw material to end product has made me appreciate the conveniences available to me. Most of all, it teaches me patience.
Stripes can be a fun, fairly easy way to add some variation of color to a knitting project. These twenty knitting patterns/projects feature stripes, but not plain-jane single-size, horizontal stripes. Stripes in varying widths, colors, or in smaller accent areas.
I got my first tattoo last year, but I have been obsessed with them since I was a teenager. I’m currently working on designing a Doctor Who themed sleeve (a tattoo that covers my arm)… I don’t know if you knew I was such a big Whovian.
I thought tattoos would be a good source of inspiration for knitting because tattoos can be so artistic and they’re worn on the skin! You can do a lot more with color and lines using a tattoo needle than you can with knitting needles, but with a little imagination these tattoos can be the start of a great new knitting project! Click through to the board to read some of my ideas for translating these tattoos into great knitting projects.
Because I need a bit of inspiration now and again and I know many of you that follow me (knitters, crocheters, designers, and general makers) also like a bit of inspiration, I thought I’d start to post regularly about what’s inspiring me at the moment.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen the start of a new swatch for a new design I’m conjuring up (above).
This design was inspired by a cup that my friend Carly painted at one of those paint-your-own-pottery.
She was inspired by this Anthropologie teacup:
For some reason, the design of the teacup stuck in my head and last week I started charting out what I remembered it to look like in my head. After finding a picture of the teacup, I realized what I remembered was nothing like the teacup except for the primary colors.
It got me wondering what other teacup designs might make for cute colorwork patterns… and I put together this Pinterest board! I hope you find something that inspires your next project!